Representative Government and Environmental Management

By Edwin T. Haefele | Go to book overview

2 Environmental Quality as a Problem of Social Choice

INTRODUCTION

The problems posed by having to make explicit choices about the environment, something that governments now have to do, have pointed up the weakness of modern government. So long as the problems faced by governments could be defined as technical problems, then they could be passed along to experts and the solutions arrived at by a nonpolitical or covertly political process. But environmental problems quickly became value judgment problems. Moreover, they obviously require governmental action.

It was once generally true that environmental quality could be purchased in the private market. As my income rose, I could confidently look forward to enjoying cleaner air, a quieter neighborhood, and most other elements of what might have been (and was) called gracious living. Now, even though my income rises, I find the private market for environmental quality closed to all but multimillionaires, and even they are worried.

Were environmental quality still to be bought through individual transaction (like buying Cadillacs), we could ignore the social issue posed by bad environments by treating it (like ten-year-old Chevys) as an income distri-

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Reprinted with minor revision from Allen V. Kneese and Blair T. Bower, eds., Environmental Quality Analysis: Theory and Method in the Social Sciences ( Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press for Resources for the Future, Inc., 1972). Copyright © 1972 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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